Let’s debate proportional representation, again

Another chance to fret about the current situation

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

When the House convenes this afternoon, MPs will be called to debate the following motion from the NDP:

That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system, which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.

Though the motion is unlikely to pass, it will at least be interesting to see if it can win a few stray votes from the Conservatives and Liberals. Liberal party delegates voted two years ago to endorse a preferential ballot. And the government seems to officially oppose the NDP’s proposal for proportional representation—the government apparently having decided that referendums in three provinces constitute a settled debate. But perhaps there are a few fans of mixed-member proportional representation among the blue and red teams (Stéphane Dion has proposed a sort of preferential proportional system).

This will be at least the fifth time the House has debated proportional representation in the last 12 years. In 2011, it was part of an NDP motion to study Senate and electoral reform (defeated by a vote of 214 to 77). In 2007, it came up in discussion of an NDP MP’s motion to strike a committee to study democratic reform (defeated 175-91). In 2003, the NDP called for a referendum on electoral reform (defeated 144 to 76). And, in 2001, it was part of both an NDP motion calling for a study and an NDP MP’s motion calling on the government to pursue electoral reform. (It seems to me that neither item was put to a vote.)

That 2003 vote on a referendum was touted as the first time the House had voted on proportional representation since 1923. That motion actually won the support of various Canadian Alliance MPs, including Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, James Moore, James Rajotte and Scott Reid. Moore and future government whip Jay Hill both told the House they were not in favour of proportional representation, but they were unhappy with the status quo and in favour of public debate on the situation.

Hill was troubled by the prospect of a party being able to govern like a dictatorship without a majority of the popular vote:

It is a debate that Canadians should have. Canadians want to have a debate about their Parliament because, and I will sum up with this, something is wrong when we see an elected dictatorship put in place to run the business of this country with 38 per cent of the votes in a federal election . . .

The honourable member is right on the mark when she states that there are too many Canadians who feel disconnected. They are not engaged because they feel that their vote does not count for anything. Referring to the example I used, there is something seriously wrong with our system when 62 per cent of Canadians in the 1997 election did not vote for the government, did not vote Liberal, yet the Liberals had a massive majority that enabled the Prime Minister to act like a dictator.

Indeed, the math of first-past-the-post was something of a concern back then. Here is Jason Kenney in 2001, hectoring a Liberal MP:

In the last two elections, respectively, the Liberal party earned 38 per cent and 41 per cent of the popular vote, which was far short of majority. Yet, with roughly 60 per cent of Canadians opposing its program, it managed to completely monopolize political power in the country. Does he think that is in the best interest of democracy?

Furthermore, does he not think it would be helpful to national unity if the composition of Parliament in some way reflected the diversity and plurality of political views we find in the regions? Would he not think that the 25 per cent of the voters of my province of Alberta who voted for Liberal candidates should have a larger representation in this place than they currently have?

. . . Does he have any regard at all for the fact that Canada is now the only multi-party advanced democracy in the world that has a system of voting designed in, and for, 16th-century England, when candidates really were non-partisan candidates elected for the purpose of representation?

. . . Would he not concur with me that we should be mindful of the many international precedents in other parliamentary systems, such as sister Commonwealth countries, including Great Britain, which has adopted a form of modified PR for its regional assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

I wonder if the member could address these points. Does he not think that a greater reflection of the plurality of views in different parts of the country would be healthy for democracy? Does he apologize at all for the fact that his government shamelessly exercises completely uncontrolled power, even though it is opposed in elections by 60 per cent of Canadians? Does he think that every other complex multi-party democracy in the world has it wrong and Canada alone has it right?

Now that we have managed to drive voter turnout down to 60 per cent, does he think that is a record of success and vibrancy in our democracy?

Scott Reid was of the opinion that the system was broken and suggested a preferential ballot. Reid also had a “three-stage” proposal for reforming our electoral system that involved a commission and two referendums, the second referendum being conducted along a preferential ballot.

Not that anyone asked me, but I’m not a fan of pure proportional representation or the mixed-member model of proportional representation. I’d rather an MP be strictly elected to represent a single riding. However, I would like to see those MPs elected via a ranked ballot, which has the added virtue of being a simple fix. Regardless, we won’t accomplish much without first (or additionally) changing the ways in which MPs function within the House, however they are elected.


Let’s debate proportional representation, again

  1. Scott Reid is a waste of skin, his opinions aren’t worth sh!t;

    The Globe & Mail Has Second Thoughts

    So someone decided that publishing Scott Reid’s rallying cry to “kill” the Prime Minister wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    In the interest of preserving one of the Great Moments in Liberal Party Asshackery, here it is again –

    Their imperative could not be more clear: kill him. Kill him dead. Do not, whatever you do, provide him with an opportunity to extend his hold on power. Because you can be damn certain he will never again be so reckless as to give you a chance to finish him off.

    Fate tends to be grudging with gifts of this significance. To ignore it would be an error every bit as historic as the one Mr. Harper himself has made.

    So don’t get fancy. Don’t get confused. And don’t get weak in the knees. If you don’t put Mr. Harper in his grave, he’ll put you in yours.

  2. Tory plan is ‘beer and popcorn’ money

    BEAMSVILLE, Ont. – Prime Minister Paul Martin tried yesterday to stem voter backlash after a senior aide publicly criticized the Conservative child-care policy as flawed because it could allow parents to use their child-care benefits to simply buy “beer and popcorn.”

    By National Post December 12, 2005

    BEAMSVILLE, Ont. – Prime Minister Paul Martin tried yesterday to stem voter backlash after a senior aide publicly criticized the Conservative child-care policy as flawed because it could allow parents to use their child-care benefits to simply buy “beer and popcorn.”

    Scott Reid, Mr. Martin’s director of communications, quickly retracted the comment but the Liberal leader was still left trying to clean up the mess.

    At a campaign stop at a southern Ontario winery, he was thrown off stride in promoting his theme for the day — the economy — and forced to answer questions about the appropriateness of Mr. Reid’s remarks.

    Conservative MP Rona Ambrose said Mr. Reid’s remarks are “offensive” and serve to highlight the fundamental difference between the Liberals and Tories on child care.

    “Every day, Canadians are putting their children first. They are making sacrifices for them. But the Liberals don’t trust people with their own money. They don’t trust Canadians to make the best decision for their children.”

    • And what, exactly, does this have to do with the issue under discussion in the article? Are you off your meds again?

      • Considering it’s Scott Reid shilling for the Lieberals while trying to find a way back to power for the most corrupt party in Canadian history, very relevant.

  3. The problem with the current system is precisely that we elect only one MP per riding. In a multi-party environment, that person is typically elected with 40% of the votes in the riding. That means that most of us vote for candidates who do not get elected, so most of us are “represented” in Parliament by people we voted against. And most MPs represent mostly people who voted against them. Most developed countries ended this nonsense and switched to proportional voting systems sometime last century.

    Both MMP and STV are proportional systems that include directly elected MPs.

    • Canada will remain a FPTP electoral system for the foreseeable future, much to the chagrin of the official opposition and da turd pardi.

  4. Liberal Yes votes: Joyce Murray, Stéphane Dion, Frank Valeriote, Carolyn Bennett, Ted Hsu, Mauril Bélanger, Scott Brison, Rodger Cuzner, Kirsty Duncan, Wayne Easter, Mark Eyking, Hedy Fry, John McCallum, David McGuinty, John McKay, Adam Vaughan (16).

    Liberal No votes: Justin Trudeau, Scott Simms, Gerry Byrne, Emmanuel Dubourg, Judy Foote, Chrystia Freeland, Marc Garneau, Ralph Goodale, Yvonne Jones, Kevin Lamoureux, Dominic LeBlanc, Lawrence MacAulay, Geoff Regan, Francis Scarpaleggia, Judy Sgro (15).

    Liberal policy is “THAT immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.”

    Half of them are ready for proportional representaton. A good start.

    • Half of Liberals wanting PR is a good start?


  5. I’m on board with ranked balloting. And with including “none of the above” as one of the options.

    • Absolutely! FPTP makes no sense whatsoever in a multi-party environment. And, IMO PR is fatally flawed by the fact that you lose having a MP directly accountable to your riding. Bring on ranked/preferential balloting!

      And, “none of the above” would be icing on the cake.

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